Seduced by technology

Caroline Ednie looks at a new exhibition at the Tramway that questions the impact of new technology on our lives and explodes traditional ideas of art.

‘V-topia is a technological show but it‘s not about technology. It’s an art show which aims to question to what extent technology is liberating and living up to its Utopian dream of providing society with unimaginable opportunities. or to what extent it is irnprisoning and about control. dangerous sexual politics and de-socialisation.‘

Charles Esche. one of the organisers of V-topia. is making no small claims as to the importance of the current exhibition at the Tramway. and if it is the case that the best art doesn't provide answers but raises questions. then V-topia is in with a shout for epic status.

V-topia is a major multismedia exhibition questioning the nature ofour ‘virtual future‘ and the Utopian thinking which underlies it. Seven works using digital and interactive technology are presented. Esche explains: ‘Rather than in other new media exhibitions where you just press a button and do something new and that is the art work. this exhibition is about being critical of new technology and the implications it has on us, rather than being interested in it for its own sake.‘

‘I’m cynical about virtual reality and the claims that it makes. Only when people can construct their own worlds can they really be in control.’

In the 3D Audio Guide to V-topia. Susan Collins addresses the much touted concepts of ‘virtual environment‘ and ‘cybcr'space‘. Using headsets and a series of audio and visual zones. the visitor can boldly go where no visitor has gone before.

‘l‘m cynical about virtual reality and the claims that it rnakes.‘ says Collins. ‘Only when people can construct their own worlds can they really be in control. What I‘m trying to do in this piece is seduce people with the technology and hope they recognise they are being manipulated at the same time. I‘m trying to place ideas inside people's heads. to insert experiential things within the constructs of technology and layer that with the acoustic element which is about control and navigation. The viewers can navigate their own path through my work. and choreograph their own experience. Although I am playing with people. I‘m letting them draw their own conclusions. Technology is only as good as you make it.‘

Elsewhere in the exhibition. Lynn Hershman's A Room of One '5 Own looks at the uncomfortable subject of voyeurism and the proliferation of closed

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button to V-‘l'op

John and Paul Butler contrl la

circuit/surveillance cameras. while Graham Ellard and Stephen Johnstone challenge the notion of the Utopian city with l’ussagen. their large-scale. interactive panorama.

Clive Gillman prods the pleasure principal of the all-pervasive computer game culture with To be this Good. . . Ruck (if/mes. a seven-screen installation incorporating sequences of text at the click of a mouse. to the accompaniment of ‘Rock of Ages'. Gillrnan explains: 'The whole thing is playing with the idea of computer games and the relationship between fate and pre-determination the notion that the best games have an unpredictable outcome. yet all computer games have a predictable outcome. The

. piece relies on text because the virtual world at the moment is still mainly text based. People haven't really begun to visually explore multi-dimensional

space, however you can begin to get a sense of what it might be like with text.‘

lynn Hershman's ‘A Room ot Ono‘s Oun'

This notion is further explored in the cafe of all places. where the public will have access to intemet and fax facilities. so it'll be possible to continue your techno-pluralist discourse over a cup of char.

V~topia could prove to be one of the more vital. dynamic exhibitions dealing with the radical impact of new technologies on traditional ideas of art to happen this year. The exhibition marks a seismic shift in the accepted. preconceived notion ofthe artist as an individual entity to now occupying a much wider collaborative role: the artwork. which. on this evidence, can no longer enjoy a introverted. medium-based aura. and finally the viewer, who it seems will now be at a loss occupying the more familiar territory of passivity and anonymity. Could it also be a case of P.M.T (Post Modern Tendencies). R.l.P?

V-Topiu is a! the Tramway. Glasgow until I I September.

54 The List 29 July-l I August 1994